Photo-op of the messiahs

Published last September 2, 2009 at the op ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

In the front pages of most newspapers last Monday was that photo of 13 presidential wannabes linking arms for clean and honest elections in 2010.

The photo was of particular human interest for several reasons.

First, because it was the first time a group actually succeeded in bringing together more than seven putative candidates in one venue—13 out of the 16 or so presidential aspirants. We all know there are quite a number of people out there with a moist eye on the presidency but for the most part, we’ve only seen them individually. The impact of actually seeing a real visual of all 13 candidates together was quite mystifying. My eight-year-old niece put it in better perspective when she asked me “do all of them really have a chance to become president?”

Our problem is not that we don’t have enough leaders because we do have an abundance of them; our problem is that we don’t have enough leaders in this country that have not been inflicted with the Messiah complex. Everyone seems to think they are the only ones who can do the job. No one else would do.

Second, the 13 candidates were not only shown in a rare moment of unity, kapit-bisig style. They were also shown flashing their pearly whites as if they were bosom buddies out for a stroll instead of competitors for the highest seat in the land. Most of these people have already started hitting each other. We expect the exchange of blows to intensify further as the deadline for the filing of candidacies looms nearer.

I saw a clip on television that showed Senator Manny Villar greeting his adversary Senator Jajajajamby Madrigal with a peck on the cheek at the breakfast that preceded the event. Of course they will always claim that their running feud is not personal, but we know that given half the chance they each would like to demolish the political career of the other. Seeing all 13 being genial to each other was a pleasant experience because it validated the point that there is room for diplomacy and civility even in Philippine politics.

Third, the photo showed the 13 candidates at the starting line of the marathon. It’s almost redundant to cite the metaphorical implication of that photo-op. I’ve said this before but I will repeat it just the same: The campaign season has started and I am not just talking about those slick television ads and those streamers and tarpaulin banners that have suddenly sprouted in many streets.

The presence of the presidential hopefuls at an event supposedly staged to drum up awareness and support for clean and honest elections in 2010 was an exercise in hypocrisy. Many of these people are already engaged in practices that do not advance the cause of clean and honest elections in this country. The fact that only Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay actually ran in the marathon while the rest simply went there for the photo-op and then conveniently disappeared afterwards proved the lack of sincerity of the candidates for the cause.

It has been argued that those infomercials do not violate election rules as they do not specifically and directly urge people to vote for the candidates being pushed in those infomercials. I don’t know which one is more absurd—the efforts of candidates or those of the Commission on Elections in trying to pass off as acceptable something that is painfully obvious as unacceptable. At any rate, these infomercials are loaded with subliminal messages that are even probably more dangerous than direct, clearly spelled-out and articulated messages.

Moreover, a friend who is a local government official in the Visayas told me over the weekend that the political machinery in the provinces are already being oiled and calibrated this early with election money from the major presidential wannabes. There will be cheating—or at least attempts to cheat at the grassroots level and the mechanisms to do this are already being laid this early.

The absence of Bro. Mike Velarde of the El Shaddai religious community at the photo-op was notable because among all those who have thrown their hats into the presidential derby, he was the most talked about in the last few weeks. Reliable sources say that Velarde is smarting from having been rebuffed publicly by Joseph Estrada who denied he ever entered into any political deal with Velarde. I never really believed Velarde was seriously determined to seek the presidency, anyway.

But Bro. Eddie Villanueva and Catholic priest Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio were there. Both are still intent in seeking the presidency. I know that both have very little chances of winning, particularly if the Mar Roxas-Noynoy Aquino team gets finalized, but I still want to register my reservations at the idea of having religious leaders as candidates for the highest seats of the land.

This matter of religious leaders seeking elective positions is a complication that we can do without. Unfortunately the Messiah complex afflicts even those who claim to have God’s private telephone number.

I agree that we do have a moral crisis in the country today and that a large part of our problem is attributable to this crisis. However, I do not subscribe to the gibberish being peddled out there that the crisis that can only be solved through the election of a religious leader as president.

Oh please, the assertion that only religious people have moral ascendancy is deeply flawed. I’ll probably reconsider this stand when the Church and religious people start paying taxes, when they stop parlaying their status into certain perks and privileges, and when they start to live and act like the flock they are supposed to serve instead of like kings and monarchs. Besides, I think it is very hypocritical for any member of the religious sector to simply blame others for the moral crisis that we face today and absolve themselves of culpability. If we come to really think about it, the moral crisis is also indicative of the utter failure of the Church to do its job.

My main reservation, however, still has to do with the philosophical, ideological, and even theological biases that any leader of a religious sector automatically has, on account of his strong faith and his position in his religious group. Whether Panlilio, Velarde, and Villanueva accept it or not, they carry with them a lot of baggage that will render them ineffective as president. They cannot, for instance, endorse contraception or allow gambling, or even sex education. The separation of the Church and the State is built on certain givens that have not changed through the decades.


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